Willie Nelson reminds David Schwinn about the role of passion in this unlikely pairing of visionaries.
My wife Carole and I recently attended a Willie Nelson concert. We are long-time fans. Carole invited me to attend a Willie Nelson concert as our first real date more than 30 years ago. I accepted the invitation reluctantly because I knew almost nothing about Willie Nelson at the time, except that he was a country-western singer and I didn’t much like country-western music.
I was pleasantly surprised and became, along with Carole, a dedicated fan. Whenever we can, we see Willie live. For example, years ago we were in Milwaukee working with the ASQ and noticed that Willie was performing a sold-out concert there. We found out where he was staying and talked one of his road show crew out of excellent tickets the afternoon before the event. Let me explain what hooked me.
First of all, it was the music. As I only came to understand much later than our first concert, Willie’s music is not traditional country-western music. It is his own special combination of country, folk, and jazz and I love it. He is also a story teller for me, in a way that most composers fall short. I could even understand the words the first time he sang them. Finally his relationship with his band, the Family, and with the audience was clearly honorable and affectionate. I never articulated all this before. Over all these many years, I said only that what hooked me was his open and transparent soul.
Willie’s concerts always have that soul, but they frequently change as he experiments with new music. This most recent concert seemed to be more improvisational than most, but that is not what struck me most. What struck me was a view on one of the big screens beside the stage, shot as Willie was playing, from a camera on the side of the stage at just above stage floor level. What I saw was this very old man (84 years old) playing his heart out. Carole reminded me of another, similar “first date” of mine more than 35 years ago.
This concert was the first 4-day conference that Dr. Deming offered at Ford World headquarters. He was just past 80 at the time. I don’t think I had even known anyone that old at that time in my life. As the small team that was responsible for everything going well, we were worried stiff that something might happen to injure him physically. Although he did not appear frail, he certainly did not move as well as the rest of us. In those days before we had wireless technology, the possibility of Dr. Deming tripping on one of the many wires on stage kept us all on edge. Once he began, however, he conveyed only passion, strength, wisdom, and no tolerance for stupidity. His mental passion there certainly matched Willie’s physical passion at our latest concert. That first time I facilitated one of Dr. Deming’s many 4-day conferences was, for me, a groundbreaking event. Dr. Deming was, as Willie put it, “On the road, again.” Their passion for being on the road was only one of several ways those two men are alike.
They are/were both revolutionaries. We all know that Dr. Deming brought us transformational management and leadership. Willie, as I said before, created a new kind of “outlaw” country music. He also openly and fearlessly acts on things he cares about like marijuana legalization, Asian peoples who suffer from earthquakes, poor small farmers, animals, the LGBT community, and world peace.
They are/were both musicians and composers. Willie’s numerous songs are legendary. Dr. Deming, among other pieces, composed an adaptation of “The Star Bangled Banner” because he wanted a national anthem that ordinary people could sing.
Finally, they both exemplify quality. Willie’s music and presence can make you think, remember, understand, appreciate, love, weep, and always enjoy. Dr. Deming expected of himself and others actions that represented a deep understanding of systems, people, learning, and statistics. He always acted to achieve those expectations.
My fervent hope is that all of us can find something in our jobs that we are so passion about that we, too, can give our hearts and souls to it. That is, I believe, what our work should be about.
As always, I treasure your comments and questions.